Member Spotlight: Paul Bruijn

August 25, 2022 | BIER

Meet Paul Bruijn
Paul Bruijn, Global Lead Sustainable Production

Company: Heineken

Connect with Paul on LinkedIn

Welcome to our series aimed at spotlighting the individual leaders within BIER member companies and stakeholder organizations. Learn how these practitioners and their companies are addressing pressing challenges around water, energy, agriculture, climate change, and what inspires each of them to advance environmental sustainability in the beverage sector and collectively, overall.

Briefly describe your role and responsibilities and how long you have worked with your company.

While I have been with Heineken for 33 years, I’ve always worked in the environmental domain. Initially, I started as a fresh graduate of biology studies.  When entering the workforce, HR had a different idea for me, but I didn’t want it! I wanted to be an environmental specialist. Fortunately, at that time, the company’s reorganizations were shaping up in a way that supported my ambitions so that I could work in the environmental field.

My current role, as I define it, is a bit somewhere between science and reality; in a sense, to be a bit ahead of the group and a bit of a strategic thinker supporting the strategies that we need to have on important sustainability topics. In short, for us at Heineken, there are three main sustainability areas where we are making reductions: climate change is the main challenge, we have a Carbon Reduction program, and we need to work on water too. The third area of importance is the move toward a Circular Economy.

Regarding climate, we have clear goals, as noted in our 2030 Brew a Better World commitments, and we are now in execution mode. Our water strategy, Every Drop Counts, is recognition for healthy watersheds, and it’s not only the water efficiency that brewers have to work on but also that what we discharge can be made suitable for reuse. The circular economy is getting much more attention, especially in the European Union. It’s one of the initiatives that integrate with the Green Deal and the Farm-to-Fork Strategy.

All these high-level intentions of politicians and scientists need to be translated into practical measures for brewers.  These solutions need to be impactful and relevant but also scalable and affordable. So that’s a part of my role: to shape the solutions as a response to the big challenges that we have.

On one hand, it’s about packaging recycling, reductions of waste to landfills, but also attention for scarce materials. Last but not least we have our own co-products, brewers spent grains and surplus yeast that need to be recycled as best as possible, preferably to human food products

Keep in mind, when you’re dealing with environmental topics for more than 30 years, you also grow in the, let’s say, the dossiers behind them. The big challenges we are facing are not a one-day decision.  The first CO2 target setting goes back to the Kyoto climate conferences and then to the EU, and later on to the Paris climate agreement. So, in a sense, as an environmental professional, you can see what is coming on the horizon in terms of important topics, challenges, and so forth.

Without the intention to offend brewers, I think what helps is that our supply chain at Heineken is pretty simple. We have a few ingredients and a few different packaging materials, and that’s basically it. So our upstream processes include barley and hop cultivation and the malting of barley, as well as, the production of cans, bottles, and plastic bottles. Downstream we have fridges and beer coolers to take care of. In between all process blocks, we have logistics from trucks, ships, and trains. So it’s not the most complex product that we make. With that, I think it makes addressing these pressing environmental challenges a doable thing, but also a very necessary thing! If companies with a simple supply chain cannot go to climate zero, then what can we expect from the more complex industries making more than 100 or 1000 different products or high tech or whatever?

Throughout my career, I may have had the same role with the environment, but the level of detail was different. I started as a lab assistant and as a researcher, so I had my hands in the wastewater, I had my hands in the Clean-in-Place (CIP) cleanings. I worked with brewers spent grains and yeast. And that makes it easier in a later phase to design a workshop for water efficiency and energy efficiency. And if you’ve done the energy efficiency thing, you can understand the carbon dioxide calculations, and then you start reading lifecycle assessment or packaging. So, one thing leads to the other. It’s obvious to me that the transition has to happen now, and it is not a few percent reduction every year – that it is really much more urgent.

How has the company’s sustainability program evolved over the years, and what are your specific priorities for 2022?

There are basically two elements to consider in answering this question. Looking back, I see how Heineken went from a local player – to a European player – to a global player, and now we have 180 breweries and about 10 malting plants. That’s a footprint!

Also, environmental topics evolved from, let’s say, noticing local odors and smells around the brewery to environmental reporting at a time when the definitions were not very clear between brewers. Then we went to, let’s say, regional environmental problems like acid rain.  The focus then shifted as we engaged on global topics such as the problems with the ozone layer and the successful Montreal Protocol. Water stress issues began to surface, and now we have extended our scope not only to breweries, but we have really raised the bar with sustainability for the “barley to bar production chain.

What I’m now most proud of is Heineken’s ambition level. By 2030 we will have all our breweries and malting plants on a net zero carbon emission level, which is a huge challenge. In addition, by 2040, our supply chains need to be carbon neutral.

How do you feel being a BIER member will help you successfully address the key areas you are addressing in 2022?

In the early days of BIER, I was just one of the younger professionals overhearing more seasoned professionals advocating that we need to develop shared solutions. And, in facing these environmental challenges, there was the idea of how do we stay optimistic enough? And, how can we help each other? This is relevant because, in our individual companies, we were basically almost alone in those days. The environmental community, so to speak, wasn’t really developed.  BIER  was very supportive in providing a trusted network of professionals to discuss relevant topics and also support us individually on our paths within our organizations. Now the situation in our company is much different, we have sustainability colleagues in every OpCo, and we have a mature team in our Global Office.

Additionally, the methodology development and the harmonization in the pre-competitive domain with BIER was, and still is, innovative. BIER’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Sector Guidance is one of these work products which had a huge impact. It contributed to the invitation of the EU commission to join the EU Beer PEF pilot, a nice four years work, done under the umbrella of Brewers of Europe. I was at that time the technical project coordinator and worked well together with my fellows from other brewers. BIER also supported this project. BIER also helped to shape and align our thoughts on our water strategy in that we now emphasize healthy watersheds. The water balancing and water circularity, was to a big extent, built on the foundational discussions in BIER.

Our participation in BIER continues to provide insights and guidance in our decision-making. It also supports us in collectively raising the bar for practical, scalable environmental solutions in the beverage industry.

Name one of the practical solutions or best practices you learned in working with BIER and its members and why it was important to you and/ or your company.

I would say water was always a shared topic from BIER. One of the extremely important details in this whole protocol methodology development is that primary data from our key suppliers, like energy efficiencies, carbon emissions, recycled content, and recycling rates, are all regarded on a “need-to-know basis” by suppliers and yet relevant for calculations. Because we are all working together, it aligns us in purpose in requesting this type of information from our suppliers. It’s not Heineken that is asking for this information but also, all brewers with European operations have the right to ask these questions. It helps us to select the right supplier, so it also helps these industries as doing good becomes a measurable thing.

Another advantage of being a BIER member is the recognition that our individual companies cannot solve these environmental challenges alone.  Of course, we meet in a pre-competitive area, and there are ambitions for individual companies to aspire to be the first in a nice application, but at the end of the day, there’s only one planet. And if we want to save the planet, we all need to work on it.

Share a recent accomplishment of your company’s sustainability initiatives/achievements you are most proud of and why.

As I mentioned, our 2030 Brew a Better World commitments raise the bar across three pillars, nine ambition areas, and 22 commitments, and I am deeply, together with my colleagues, committed to fulfilling on those commitments. Just recently, we announced that many more of our suppliers are committed to joining SBTi and are now setting carbon reduction targets! Very encouraging!

If you had one superpower that could be used to radically accelerate and scale sustainable best practices, which one would it be, and how would you use it?

Well, of course, the first superpower would be to create world peace (this is not entirely a joke since the turmoil in the world is, a part of the tragedy, “far from helping).

Regarding my superpower, I think we need a realization that we know enough to solve the challenges we face and that it’s now really time for action. What I would like to do if I had a superpower is that all our employees, supply chain partners, and also our consumers would have a nice dream. They would wake up from the dream fully committed to doing their part with a recognition that sustainability is not something for the sustainability department. That sustainability is every employee really taking ownership. This would include everybody in the brewery and in the supply chain owning their commitment as well. Because with ownership in place, it shifts the task and targets from no longer being a burden, but something to really embrace and to do with pride, understanding the relevance.


BIER Publications referenced in this interview:

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Sector Guidance

The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) is a technical coalition of leading global beverage companies working together to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage sector.
By BIER [crp]

The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) is a technical coalition of leading global beverage companies working together to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage sector. Formed in 2006, BIER is a common voice across the beverage sector, speaking to influence global standards on environmental sustainability aspects most relevant to the sector, affect change both up and down the supply chain and share best practices that raise the bar for environmental performance of the industry. By doing so, BIER is able to monitor data and trends, engage with key stakeholders, develop best practices, and guide a course of action for the future.

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